Need a partner to create better online courses? OPMs can help. 

Rethinking the traditional online learning experience with the right OPM partner will allow universities to shine in today’s pedagogical environment.
By: | January 26, 2021
Getty Images, Peter DazeleyGetty Images, Peter Dazeley

This academic year is shaping up to be extraordinarily challenging for universities. Schools are losing significant revenue with international students barred from travel and domestic students either streaming classes from their parents’ living rooms or deferring their studies altogether while the pandemic crisis plays out. This changing educational landscape means that universities must reinvent themselves to recoup lost revenues and offer value to their students or they might not survive.

Gjergj Demiraj, Gutenberg Technology

Gjergj Demiraj, Gutenberg Technology

Until now, a vast majority of colleges and universities resisted bringing education online, with skepticism surrounding the quality, value and affordability of online education. The traditional undergraduate experience relies on a three- or four-year degree program that takes place on a campus. Now, almost all colleges and universities have decided to enhance their online offerings and market their programs beyond traditional geographic boundaries to help weather the crisis. The Big Ten Academic Alliance, for example, is offering more than 600,000 students the opportunity to take online courses at other universities in the group as part of a new online course sharing initiative.

With online learning shaping up to be a significant part of higher education, those who wish to survive must adapt quickly. Third-party online program managers (OPMs) will play a huge–and growing–role in bringing programs online. Many institutions have already turned to OPMs to outsource how they develop and deliver online education, from student enrollment to creating courses. In the first six months of 2020, schools across the globe struck 85 new contracts with OPMs —51 of which were in the U.S.

Working with OPMs presents a unique opportunity for universities whose leaders wish to provide more compelling and modern online courses in a manner that is more aligned with our current reality. The goal is to deliver an online learning experience that is comparable to in-person teaching and maintain the fundamental pedagogical learning outcomes and standards. This is not easy. While a university could use its legacy learning management system (LMS) and its own internal staff to create courses, most institutions do not currently have enough instructional design bandwidth and educational technology resources and skills to do this in a meaningful manner. Most courses built on an LMS are pretty barebones, consisting of basic video content, text and assessments. This makes for unengaging content and, therefore, unengaged learners.

This is where OPMs—with extensive experience in instructional design—step in. OPMs have expertise in the appropriate techniques for developing online educational programs and materials, including identifying learner characteristics and specifying objectives. By working with OPMs, universities can clearly identify the pedagogy they want to capture in the online experience and determine which elements they want to use to design unique learning pathways, ensuring courses and programs align with the university’s overarching goals.

And now rather than handing over full control of online programming to a third party—which has traditionally been the only option if universities did not have in-house capacity—universities have the choice to work with OPMs piecemeal as they build their own capabilities. This is possible as a result of new courseware creation platforms that better leverage universities’ existing LMSs by providing tools for rapid course creation and fluid course management.

Traditionally, creating compelling courseware can take from three to five months for many educators. Rather than starting from scratch, the right courseware creation platform—used in conjunction with the right OPM partner–will allow instructors to “reuse and recycle” content from existing courses to streamline and innovate the course creation process. For example, a good platform will allow for the creation of individual “learning objects” (“LOs”) out of their supplemental resources such as text, images and videos, that can easily be inserted directly into multiple online courses. In addition, for LOs to have value, the tools and technology used to define and meta-tag them must be sophisticated enough to maximize their searchability and usefulness.

Beyond this, delivering content to the right people at the right time is paramount for optimizing individual student outcomes. It is important to empower instructors to monitor student activity with dynamic assessment tools, as well as designate which materials each student should receive based on personal progress.

Given our current educational reality, it is critical that universities rethink ways to continue to offer a premium experience to their students. The disruption caused by the pandemic has created a challenging yet exciting opportunity to transform the traditional online learning experience and deliver engaging, high-quality learning experiences to better compete in today’s pedagogical environment.

Gjergj Demiraj is the President and CEO of Gutenberg Technology, which offers instructional design solutions. Previously, Gjergj worked internationally in the software and media industries, building his expertise in digital publishing transformation. He studied in Milan, is a polyglot and co-founded a crowdfunding company while living in France.